Koen van den Broek is a Belgian artist living and working in Schilde. His distinctive oil paintings of the modern urban landscape, featuring largely road-side architectural motifs, have appeared in solo and group shows across Western Europe, the United States, Britain and South Korea.Read More
He first trained as an architect at KU Leuven, Belgium (1991–1993)—a possible reason for his fascination with everyday artificial structures. Subsequently, van den Broek underwent an extensive formal art-training with firm roots in the European painting tradition. After first studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp (1993–1995), he moved on to the Academy of Visual Arts St Joost, Breda (1995–1997) and then the Higher Institute of Fine Arts Flanders, Antwerp (1997–2000). However he also sustained an interest in American conceptual and abstract art, regularly encountering his source material on frequent trips to the USA. American driving culture and the sparseness of its vast landscapes also impacted his work.
Van den Broek often uses photography as his starting point. Working from snapshots, taken during his extensive travels in Asia and the United States, van den Broek transfers the aesthetic essence of the scene—the linear geometry, textures and distribution of light and colour—onto a painted canvas. The indiscriminate nature of the camera lens (not given to hierarchically structuring things as the human eye does) impacts the composition of the paintings. Overall, the artist's visual style has graphic characteristics; his high-key palette—including both saturated and neutral colours juxtaposed with no mid-tones—is applied in thin washes to bring out the bright hues. His images are devoid of people or narratives but a human presence is implied by cast shadows, and manmade features—ranging from kerbs to motorway bridges and roads—stretch out to the horizon.
Van den Broek's lucid yet restrained painting style drifts between the figurative and the abstract. In works like Leaves (RedBorder) (2016) and Untitled (2017) he captures views such as those of pavements, roads or bridges in near-exacting detail, observing the fall of tree shadows on the pavement or, in the corners, cropped details of grass verges, parked cars, painted lines and drains. In other works, such as Floating Shadow (2014), Curve On Blue (2016) and Santa Claus, NV #3 (2016), ancillary detail is ignored, leaving only semi-abstract patterns of linear forms and solid planes of colour. Drawing attention to the complex visual aesthetics present in the most basic and banal elements of the modern urban landscape, the artist's works give new life to the experience of looking.
Not all van den Broek's works address road-side subject matter, as shown by Hoover (2013). In 2008 he collaborated with John Baldessari for the exhibition This an Example of That (which was shown in two parts at Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht and Galerie Greta Meert, Brussels between 2008 and 2009). The prominent Californian photographer sent van den Broek 22 photographs of Hollywood sets and scenery to be enlarged in prints; the younger artist then introduced lines, strokes and areas of colour.
Since 2013, van den Broek has pursued a more refined level of abstraction. In series such as 'Cut Away', 'Torque' and 'Waves', pure form is the subject matter; all connections to real-world subjects are severed. Rather than referring to photographs he now refers to formal aspects of earlier works. He has not, however, completely abandoned his earlier figurative pursuits, and still produces work with highly realistic imagery. The 2017 Untitled oil painting depicting a motorway underpass is a clear indicator of this continuity of earlier styles.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2017